Maggie Fox, NBC News, June 9, 2015
A female patient with an extremely hard-to-treat form of tuberculosis is being treated at the National Institutes of Health outside Washington, D.C., and federal and state officials are now tracking down hundreds of people who may have been in contact with her.
The woman traveled to at least three states before she sought treatment from a U.S. doctor. While TB is not easily caught by casual contact, extensively drug resistant (XDR) TB is so dangerous that health officials will have to make a concerted effort to warn anyone who may be at risk.
The patient, who isn’t being identified in any way, may face months or even years of treatment. Ordinary TB is hard to treat and requires, at a minimum, weeks of antibiotics. XDR-TB resists the effects of almost all the known TB drugs. Sometimes patients have to have pockets of infection surgically removed.
Only about a third to half of cases can even be cured.
It’s not clear why the patient traveled so much before seeking treatment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
“The patient traveled in April from India to the United States through Chicago O’Hare airport,” the CDC said in a statement provided to NBC News.
“The patient also spent time in Missouri and Tennessee. Seven weeks after arriving in the United States, the patient sought treatment for and was diagnosed with active TB.”
She was isolated in a suburban Chicago hospital before she was sent to NIH.
XDR-TB is very rare in the U.S. CDC says it got reports of 63 cases between 1993 and 2011.
The average cost of treating multidrug-resistant TB is $134,000, compared to $17,000 for a normal case. That can shoot up to $430,000 for an extensively resistant case. It’s not clear who will pay for this patient’s treatment.